DAVENPORT, Florida – Having traveled around central Florida for the past week visiting golf courses, it’s easy to see the choices are numerous and run in all shapes, sizes and prices. While some players prefer to book random online tee times, I found a neat off-the-beaten path course that offers a decent layout and price, and overall fun golfing experience.
Listen up golf aficionados, when in central Florida you should consider Highlands Reserve Golf Club.
Heading south from Walt Disney World on Rte 192 to 27 in Davenport, Florida, you’ll find Highlands Reserve Golf Club, designed by noted golf architect Michael Dasher . Opened in 1998, this is a golf course unlike anything you would expect in Florida. The course sits on the edge of a long sand shelf called the Green Swamp Ridge with elevations spanning 120 feet from top to bottom.
Hole No. 1 offers trees lining the right side and a large live oak tree stands in the landing area on the left side. If you’re lucky (or good) and clear the tree, vegetation filled waste bunkers stretch behind the tree up to a green that is two-tiered and lightening fast. Once you work your way through the next couple of holes you begin to understand that you have found that golf course that has been calling your name and now it’s “game on.”
Holes 4, 5, 6, and 7 are designed more like a Links Course with wide-open undulating fairways and numerous sand traps. Actually, the word numerous doesn’t really cover the amount of traps you must negotiate on these four holes. And, who said being in the sand is such a bad experience?
Staying in the fairways is paramount to maintaining a decent score but be careful because “no good shot goes unpunished” might be a good explanation of what could happen on these perky and game testing holes.
Hole No. 9 is a dog-leg left with trees lining both sides and a green sitting three quarters of the way down a long hill. On most tee shots, a large live 0ak tree is sitting directly in front of your second shot from 280-plus yards. Going over the tree is an option but going around gets you a longer way from home. Good luck with this shot. You might need it!
The back nine was originally the front nine but now it’s the beginning of your introduction to a more southern-style nine than the one you just played. Hole No. 10 is memorable and a reminder why you’ll tell your friends about the uniqueness of Highlands Reserve.
Tree-lined on both sides of the fairway, houses border the right, with trees extending into the fairway on the left side of the tee box that will challenge you to hit your best Bubba Watson baby-fade. The green features a dip in the middle that makes your first putt on the back nine noteworthy.
Hole No. 11 tee is the highest point of the course and provides an endless view overlooking the beauty of Central Florida and the Highlands Reserve Community. A large bunker on the left will scoop up any pulled tee shot, but there’s ample fairway. Hole No. 12 stretches backup the hill you just came down from 11, but has a totally different personality. Your tee shot needs to be dead straight because there is trouble on both sides. The green is elevated with only a peak at the upper part of the flag which is your target.
The 13th hole is a 170-yard par 3. The green is peanut shape and requires a high trajectory and soft landing to stay on the green. The 14th hole is a short par 4 directly down a steep hill that approaches a two-tier green. At first glance, it appears to be an easy hole but holding the green with your second shot is the secret to securing par.
The fifteenth hole is another long par 3. The strategy here is to keep your tee shot to the left and hitting enough club. If you hit to the right the fairway sloops right taking your ball to a difficult or unplayable lie.
The eighteenth hole is a 515-yard, dogleg right called “Sidewinder.” You’ll find deep, crater-sized transition areas that run almost the entire length of the hole on the right side of the fairway with well hidden sand traps sprinkled in. A good tee shot demands you stay left and keep away from a treacherous right side with hazards. The left side of the fairway rises then peaks before heading downhill and funneling toward the hole. If you’ve managed to stay left as you negotiate the fairway with your second and third shots, you just might finish your round with a well-deserved birdie!
Highlands Reserve Golf Club is an enjoyable layout, the course is in good shape and the price is decent! The grounds crew are amiable and work hard to keep the course in good shape so customers come back.
Special thanks to Mark and Sam (her nickname) for playing and providing wonderful, colorful history on the course. Highlands Reserve Golf Club is a hidden gem!